STAIRCASES AND SLIPPERY FLOORS
The people and other dogs in your old pal’s life are only one aspect of his environment that may need adjusting, or at least special consideration. There’s also the lay of the land. Can the dog who has slept in your bed every night for a decade still climb the stairs to make it to your bedroom? If he can, is the mattress too high for him to jump on once he gets there?
What about your highly polished wood floors, with four coats of polyurethane making them even shinier? Is the dog still steady enough on his feet to be able to make it from one end of such a slick surface to another?
The biggest physical obstacle in the house for many older dogs is the staircase. If your dog is a toy poodle or dachshund, it’s a nonissue. You just swoop him up and take him where he wants to go. But a lot of dogs, particularly large dogs that are difficult if not impossible to carry, are prone to arthritis born of hip dysplasia, elbow problems, and other orthopedic afflictions, and simply can no longer get up the stairs on their own when they are older. What do you do?
We know one owner of a sixty-five-pound dog who carried his pal up to bed every night and back down again every morning for the last two years of the dog’s sixteen-year life. Skittish and somewhat mournful, the dog had never slept outside of her owners’ bedroom before, and fortunately, the husband had enough strength to do what it took to get her there.
If carrying the dog is out of the question, you can try using a sling underneath his belly and back legs as an extra support while he climbs up or down. A towel will work as a sling, or you can buy a dog sling. Admittedly, this works better for the two or three stairs leading from the deck to the backyard than for the staircase leading from the first floor to the second. For a dog who’s game, however, it’s worth a try.
Keep in mind that a sling will work only if the dog still has some strength and ability. If he can barely use his legs at all and he’s too big too carry, you may need a ramp to get him outside from the kitchen or front door (there’s usually at least one step). It doesn’t have to be fancy. A couple of two-by-fours and some plywood should do it.
For getting in and out of the car, you can buy a car ramp rather than fashion one.
That might come in especially handy if you have an SUV or some other vehicle with doors higher off the ground than those of a standard sedan. Little ramps or small sets of movable stairs will also help a smaller dog make his way up to your bed from the floor.
At night, an essentially immobile dog who’s too heavy to carry will have to stay downstairs. Make sure he has a soft, comfy dog bed to cushion his aching joints.